Personal growth prepared Myers for ace role
Veteran righty embraces challenge of heightened expectations
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- There is little doubt where Brett Myers stands on just about anything, and if you're not sure, he would gladly love to give you his opinion. He loves his guns, his boots, hunting and baseball, and he rolls around in a black truck that has as much attitude as he does.
Myers' bravado is omnipresent, whether he's strolling across the clubhouse or to the mound. He's brash and confident in all walks of life, and he can rub the wrong way those who haven't been able to get beyond his rough exterior. He's also developed into the ace of the Astros' starting staff -- a spot that was for years anchored by Roy Oswalt.
"He's our No. 1, and he's the guy we're going to try to rally around," Astros pitching coach Brad Arnsberg said.
Myers, 30, is coming off the best season in his career, having gone 14-8 with a 3.14 ERA in his first year with the Astros. He pitched at least six innings in his first 32 starts en route to being named the team's Pitcher of the Year.
The Astros signed Myers to a reasonable deal prior to the 2010 season with the hope that he could stay healthy and re-establish himself as a starter following eight seasons in Philadelphia. He did just that and then some, parlaying his success into a lucrative contract extension. And with Oswalt having been dealt to the Phillies, Myers is the clear-cut ace.
"At this point in my career, I probably should get looked at that way," Myers said. "Nine years in the big leagues, and it comes with the time, I guess. We'll see how it goes. Hopefully, I do it the right way. Hopefully, nobody gets in trouble under my belt, I guess."
Only days after Oswalt was traded last July, the Astros signed Myers to a two-year contract extension for 2011 and '12, with a club option for '13 that could become vested through his performance in '12. The pact also contains additional performance-bonus potential that could raise the total value to $29.5 million.
The money's nice, but at this point of Myers' career, his driving goal is to win another championship. The Astros' chances of competing in the improved National League Central this year depend on several players stepping up, with Myers at the top of that list.
"I told both [manager] Brad Mills and [general manager] Ed Wade last year that I thought he was the most pivotal guy on the pitching staff, as far as keeping guys loose," Arnsberg said. "He's also a team leader that people probably don't see. Guys respect him, and guys know he's a 30-year-old guy with 10 years in the big leagues."
Arnsberg, who has a terrific relationship with Myers, recalled an incident last year when Myers confronted a younger teammate in the tunnel leading to the dugout and let him know he didn't like the way the player was going about his business.
"I heard him airing out [another player], saying, 'This isn't acceptable. What you're doing is embarrassing Arnie, the staff and Millsie,'" Arnsberg said. "He wants to win."
For Myers, leadership comes in different forms.
"I try to lead the best way I can, I guess," Myers said. "I always felt like I was trying to be a leader anyway, just trying to have fun and help people the right way. This game's about having fun. I've had ups and downs in my career, and I think the best years I had were just having fun, especially last year. Hopefully, we can have fun and play the game the right way."
Myers credits Arnsberg and the coaching staff for much of his success last year, noting that the veteran pitching coach makes things easy for him. Arnsberg spells out a game plan on the day of Myers' starts and trusts the right-hander to execute it, along with his catcher.
"They let me be myself," Myers said. "Around them, I didn't have to mind my P's and Q's as much. They let me be me, and from there, we had a good relationship. It helps a lot, because you always have somebody you can talk to if anything's going wrong. It takes the mental aspect out of the game. Instead of dwelling on stuff and thinking about stuff all the time, you're more or less concentrating on other things, and it kind of takes your mind off the bad things. And all of a sudden, it's fixed."
Myers will likely get the call for the Astros on Opening Day, when they play his former team, the Phillies, in Philadelphia on April 1. He understands the start of a new season brings new pressures and challenges, and that his 2010 accomplishments are only memories.
"It's a new year," Myers said. "Last year, I put it behind me. It's not something I can dwell on, because it happened last year. Every year, you think, 'OK, I'm going to do the same things I did last year,' and try to run through the same Spring Training. All of a sudden, the season doesn't work out the same way. Each year has to be a different year for you, and you prepare the best way you can."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.